Following False Prophets is Following Your Eyes

August 13 2009

We read in Parshat Re-eh about the prohibition against listening to a false prophet:

"if there should stand up in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream, and he will produce to you a sign or a wonder, and the sign and wonder comes about, of which he spoke to you saying: 'let us follow gods of others that you did not know and we shall worship them.'" (Devarim 13:2-3).

The Torah then commands us:

"Do not hearken to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of a dream, for Hashem, your G-d, is testing you to know whether you love Hashem, your

G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul" (ibid. 4).

The prophet may have been able to produce a sign or a wonder nevertheless we may not listen to him if we sense that he is attempting to persuade us to violate the dictates of the Torah and deny the prophecy of Moshe Rabenu. In addition to violating the specific prohibition against following this false prophet, one who follows this prophet has also violated "velo taturu acharei levavchem ve-acharei eineichem" "do not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray" (Bamidbar 15:39). This can prove to be a very difficult challenge indeed.

The Torah is filled with examples of people who followed their eyes and their hearts rather than their intellect. Let us take the example of Korach and his assembly.

The men Korach gathered were not ordinary people. They were the heads of the Sanhedrin: "leaders of the assembly, those summoned for meeting, men of renown" (Bamidbar 16:2), "people who had a name throughout the world" (Sanhedrin 110a). Each one felt he was worthy of being the Kohen Gadol. This means that for each person who claimed to be the one appropriate for the position, there were two hundred and forty-nine other great people who disagreed and felt that there was someone else more worthy. Why did not at least one of them negate his own opinion of himself in the face of the other two hundred and forty-nine? Each person was convinced that all the others were noge-a badavar and that is why they wished to disqualify him. Did anyone stop to think of himself as being noge-a badavar? The answer would be, yes, I am noge-a, but I am not prejudiced by this bias. Imagine, two hundred and forty-nine gedolim can be prejudiced but you cannot. Me, biased? Impossible! It is like the Jew who once said: "Everyone in the world only thinks of himself, it is I alone who thinks of me!"


When one "thinks" something, he can be convinced that he is wrong by being shown a Gemara, Rashi, or Rambam that disproves his thesis. On the other hand, when one "wants" something all the Rashi's in the world will not convince him. He will accuse Rashi of having personal reasons for explaining as he did. If I love potatoes, how can you prove me wrong based on the fact that Rashi loved carrots? No questions can be asked on the opinion of one who "wants" a particular approach, one who "thinks" cognitively can be convinced otherwise. The Torah warned us against this: "and do not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray" (Bamidbar 15:39), the heart and the eyes are filled with bias - only the mind can rule.

The Gemara (Pesachim 52b) relates how Rav Safra once went to chutz la'aretz and remembered that he had wine from the shmitta year. The Gemara cites a dispute between R' Shimon ben Elazar and the Rabbanan whether one in such a situation is required to return to Eretz Yisrael in order to dispose of the shmitta product. Two students of R' Avahu had accompanied him on his voyage and he inquired as to which opinion their Rav followed. One of them said that R' Avahu had ruled like R' Shimon ben Elazar and one claimed that he followed the opinion of the Rabbanan. Rav Safra said that he was going to rely on the testimony of the student who claimed that R' Avahu was lenient, for he generally gave a more accurate transmission of R' Avahu's ruling. When Rav Yoseph heard this, he used the following pasuk to describe Rav Safra: "my people asks of its wood, and its rod relates to it" (Hoshea 4:12), "its rod", "maklo" can be reread as "mekel lo" - is lenient for himself. Rav Yoseph accused Rav Safra (we of course are not worthy of making such an accusation), of relying on the testimony of one student over the other in a desire to follow the more lenient opinion, rather than due to his general accuracy. He claimed that if the other person was the one who would have offered a more lenient opinion, he would have found some reason to follow that opinion. Even one on the level of Rav Safra was accused of ruling based on negiot.


When we think based only on what "I want", we can reach mind-boggling conclusions. The spies returned from Eretz Yisrael with their report. The Jewish people reacted: "because of Hashem's hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorite to destroy us" (Devarim 1:27). Is that why Hashem smote the Egyptians and showed us all these miracles and signs? In order to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites? Is this why Hashem sent ten plagues to the Egyptians, more at sea, gave us the manna - according to one opinion (Yoma 75b) this was bread that only angels were privileged to eat. Is this why Hashem gave us a double portion on Erev Shabbat, made us victorious in the war with Amalek, and gave us the Torah? "Has a people ever heard the voice of G-d speaking from the midst of the fire as you have heard, and survived?" (Devarim 4:33). It took far less for Manoach's wife to realize: "Had Hashem wanted to put us to death, He would not have accepted from our hand an elevation-offering and a meal-offering, nor would He have shown us all this, nor would He let us hear such tidings at this time" (Shoftim 12:23). How could it be that the "generation of knowledge", the generation that received the Torah, the generation that merited reaching the incredible level of prophecy at the Great Gathering at Har Sinai, could make such a ridiculous accusation? This is beyond comprehension!

When there are negiot, there is no logic. Once the people decide not to proceed onward to Israel, all of Manoach's wife's intuition is to no avail. Moshe attempts using logic: "yet in this matter you do not believe in Hashem, your G-d. Who goes before you on the way to seek out for you a place for you to encamp with fire by night to show you the road that you should travel and with a cloud by day" (Devarim 1:32-33). Would Hashem have escorted them with a cloud of fire in order to destroy them? It was the Egyptians who were destroyed by means of the fire and clouds (see Rashi Shmot 14:24). Do they not realize that Hashem only does what is good for His people? Did Moshe, the greatest man of all time, not instruct them to proceed towards the Land. The yetzer hara, however, is not searching for logic, it is searching for what it wants to search for. "One who removes himself to court lust, will be exposed in every Torah conclave" (Mishle 18:1). One who has "wants" and "desires" removes himself from everything.


How do we remedy this situation? We must work on making greater use of our minds and intellects. Immediately following the description of the sin of the spies, the Torah warns "and not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray" (Bamidbar 15:39). The spies were sent to scout out the Land. It is true that they must use their eyes, their eyes however cannot be the poskim. It is the mind that must make the ultimate decision. We must understand that "Cities great and fortified to the heavens" (Devarim 1:28)) pale in comparison to the Creator of the Universe, we must be aware that the world is guided by Hashem alone. We must train ourselves - to attempt to follow the dictates of our intellect and logic. We must strengthen our yirat Shamayim and understand what it means that Gehinom is open before us. We must not only fear retribution for sin, but understand the reward for performance of a mitzvah as well. If we ever elect not to learn one day, we must realize what is lost by not learning and what could have been gained by learning: "weigh the loss incurred by a commandment against its reward, and the reward gained from a transgression against the loss it entails" (Avot 2:1), remember "and the study of Torah is equivalent to them all" (Shabbat 127a).

In addition to Talmud Torah, we must involve ourselves in acts of chesed as well. We must realize what we stand to lose by wasting an opportunity to perform any mitzvah, and what we stand to gain by having performed the mitzvah. Once we understand this, our negiot will change, we will have a negiah to learn more, to involve ourselves in more acts of chesed. If we were to daven a shorter Shmone Esrei, we would manage to reach the end Oseh Sholom a moment sooner. So what? What have we gained? On the other hand, if we daven with more kavana, more heart, our prayer will be as it should. We must realize when we daven that we are given an incredible opportunity to have a private audience with the King of kings. With that in mind, we will view each extra minute spent in prayer as a gain. It is very difficult to gain audience with a king of flesh and blood. We have a private counsel with the King of kings free of charge! If we weigh the potential loss at not having performed a mitzvah against anything we may stand to gain instead, we will always opt for performing the mitzvah. With this in mind we will merit being blessed with goodness and with blessings and we will merit the days of the Moshiach and life in the Next World.

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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